CRTC boosts Canadian TV content

Canadian Press

TORONTO (Mar 17/97) - The federal broadcast regulator laid some ground rules last Tuesday to boost Canadian content on TV while deregulating the way programs are distributed.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said its plan would give consumers more choice and increase Canadian programming.

The regulator said it doesn't need to regulate subscriber fees charged for distribution of TV shows by emerging competitors to cable companies, such as satellite TV and wireless technologies.

Even the largest cable firms would be able to escape regulation -- once they have shown there are effective competitors.

Basic fees charged by large cable firms would be deregulated when the companies can show that 30 per cent of households in their area have last five per cent of customers to rivals.

The regulator also set out rules that distributors would have to contribute at least five per cent of gross revenues to a fund supporting Canadian or local programming.

"The new policy framework, which is intended to guide the transition to a competitive environment, would treat all distributors fairly and equitably," a commission news release said.

Among the proposed changes is one that would allow consumers to purchase the cables inside their homes for a nominal charge that would likely not exceed $5. That would let consumers to switch easily to another supplier.

The commission will require all distributors, with the exception of small cable systems in remote areas, to pay five per cent of gross revenues into the Canadian programming fund.

The money paid by satellite providers would go into the Canada Television and Cable Production Fund. Depending upon their size, cable companies would have the option of sharing the money in varying amounts between Canadian program production or community productions.

The regulator estimates that contributions to the production fund could amount to $75 million a year within three years.

"These contributions would provide an effective and stable funding mechanism to support the production of attractive Canadian programming."

In smaller communities, cable firms could contribute the full five per cent into community TV.

Industry and the public will be able to comment on draft rules this summer. Final regulations are expected to come into force at the beginning of 1998.